One of the more striking features of the contemporary conservative movement is the extent to which it has been moving toward epistemic closure. Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted. (How do you know they’re liberal? Well, they disagree with the conservative media!) This epistemic closure can be a source of solidarity and energy, but it also renders the conservative media ecosystem fragile. Think of the complete panic China’s rulers feel about any breaks in their Internet firewall: The more successfully external sources of information have been excluded to date, the more unpredictable the effects of a breach become. Internal criticism is then especially problematic, because it threatens the hermetic seal. It’s not just that any particular criticism might have to be taken seriously coming from a fellow conservative. Rather, it’s that anything that breaks down the tacit equivalence between “critic of conservatives and “wicked liberal smear artist” undermines the effectiveness of the entire information filter. If disagreement is not in itself evidence of malign intent or moral degeneracy, people start feeling an obligation to engage it sincerely—maybe even when it comes from the New York Times. And there is nothing more potentially fatal to the momentum of an insurgency fueled by anger than a conversation. A more intellectually secure conservatism would welcome this, because it wouldn’t need to define itself primarily in terms of its rejection of an alien enemy.
First of all, I think Sanchez is right on with this. While anyone with any particularly developed ideological persuasion is at risk of succumbing to an echo chamber mentality, the contemporary Right has created such an insular, self-sustaining worldview that any dissent (internal or external) is anathema.
However, I think one needn't look so far as China for an apt parallel. Indeed, I think a more relevant example exists as a subset of the Right as a whole, and explains this epistemic enclosure to a great degree.
The Right comprises many sub-groups, but none seem more ardent in their devotion their ideology than the social conservatives. For the most part, "social conservative" is another way of saying "fundamentalist Christian," though I'm sure there are exceptions. And there is an element to fundamentalist Christianity that makes believers particularly susceptible to intellectual insularity.
There is a distressing millenarian obsessiveness on the Christian Right. The Book of Revelation is the subject of ongoing interpretation, with a constant search for signs of Christ's return undergirded by a belief that these are the End Times. Christians are warned of the False Prophet, who will deceive the world into worshipping the Antichrist. (Read for yourself. A Google search for "revelation false prophet" yields numerous fascinating hits.) His message is beguiling and sounds like truth to the easily-led, and Christians are to be on their guard for appealing messages that cause the weak to stray.
Now, obviously I don't think that ardent Right-wingers would lump David Frum in with the Antichrist. (OK, fine. I wouldn't put it past Dinesh D'Souza.) But a large segment of their base are indocrinated regularly that Satan is an alluring, effective deceiver, and his minions will tell lies that sound like truth to sway the masses. It's precisely the kind of mindset that leads to unquestioning loyalty to biased sources, constantly spewing forth a reassuring message that what they already believe is right, and those who question it are not only wrong, but (as Sanchez puts it) have malign intent and moral degeneracy.